Institutes and Research Divisions
National Library of Medicine


The National Library of Medicine, one of three national libraries, is the world's largest research library in a single scientific and professional field.

The Library has a statutory mandate from Congress to apply its resources broadly to the advancement of medical and health-related sciences. It collects, organizes, and makes available biomedical information to investigators, educators, and practitioners, and carries out programs designed to strengthen existing and develop new medical library services in the U.S. It is the central resource for the existing national biomedical information system.


Important Events in NLM History

1836--The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army was established (the present NLM).

1865--John Shaw Billings, M.D., was assigned to supervise the Surgeon General’s Library, which he developed into a national resource of biomedical literature.

1880--The first volume of Index Catalogue was published. By 1961, when it was discontinued after 61 volumes, this publication had listed 3,674,111 citations to medical books and articles, making it preeminent among scientific bibliographies of the world.

January 1922--The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army) was renamed Army Medical Library.

April 1952--The Army Medical Library was renamed the Armed Forces Medical Library.

October 1, 1956--The Armed Forces Medical Library was designated the National Library of Medicine and placed under PHS.

December 1961--The new building at 8600 Rockville Pike was dedicated.

January 1964--The Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) became operational at NLM.

January 1, 1967--A Toxicology Information Program was established at NLM in response to recommendations of the President’s science advisory committee.

July 1, 1967--The PHS Audiovisual Facility, renamed the National Medical Audiovisual Center (NMAC), became a component of NLM.

1968--NLM became a component of NIH. The Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, NLM’s R&D component, was created by Congress.

October 1971--MEDLINE (MEDLARS Online) was initiated to provide online access to a major portion of the MEDLARS database.

September 1972--TOXLINE, an online bibliographic service covering pharmacology and toxicology, became operational.

May 22, 1980--NLM’s Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC) building was dedicated. The new building, adjacent to the Library, houses NLM’s research and development component (LHNCBC), as well as its grants, toxicology, and audiovisual programs.

February 5, 1986--Grateful Med, a PC-based user-friendly software for accessing MEDLARS, was introduced to the health community.

October 1993--NLM’s Internet WWW site appeared.

November 25, 1994--The “Visible Human Male,” a large computer dataset of images based on a cadaver, was introduced. The "Visible Human Female" appeared 1 year later.

April 16, 1996--The Internet Grateful Med allowed anyone with access to the WWW to request a code and search MEDLINE via the Internet.

June 18, 1997--All web-based access to NLM's MEDLINE is made free.


NLM Legislative Chronology

August 3, 1956--An amendment to Title III of the PHS act, the National Library of Medi-cine Act, placed the Armed Forces Medical Library under the PHS, and renamed it the National Library of Medicine (P.L. 84-941).

October 22, 1965--The Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-291) was signed into law, authorizing NLM's extramural programs of grant assistance to help expand and improve the Nation’s medical library and health communications resources, technology, and manpower for service to the health community.

August 3, 1968--Public Law 90-456 authorized the designation of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications.

November 4, 1988--Public Law 100-607 authorized the establishment of a National Center for Biotechnology Information at the NLM.

June 10, 1993--Public Law 103-43 authorized the establishment of the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology at NLM.


Director's of NLM

NameDate of Birth Dates of Office
Frank B. RogersDec. 31, 1914 19561963
Martin M. CummingsSept. 7, 19201964August 1984
Donald A.B. LindbergSept. 21, 1933August 1984.........................


Biographical Sketch of NLM Director

Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D.

Dr. Lindberg assumed the directorship of NLM in August 1984. Born September 21, 1933, in Brooklyn, N.Y., he received his A.B. degree (magna cum laude) from Amherst College and his M.D. degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. He received his specialty training in anatomic and clinical pathology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. He also holds honorary degrees from Amherst College, State University of New York, and the University of Missouri.

Following early research in experimental pathology, he later began a long-term investigation of the use of computers in medicine, founding in 1963 one of the Nation's first medical computer centers at the University of Missouri. His most recent research has been in applying artificial intelligence techniques to the development of expert consulting systems.

Prior to joining the Library, Dr. Lindberg was director of the Information Science Group and professor of pathology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia. He taught pathology at Missouri from 1962 until his present appointment. He also served as chairman of the department of information science at the university's School of Library and Information Science.

Dr. Lindberg has published extensively in the fields of pathology and medical information. He is the author of two books--The Computer and Medical Care (1968) and The Growth of Medical Information Systems in the United States.

From 1992 to 1995 he served in the concurrent position of director of the National Coordination Office for High Performance Computing and Communications, Executive Office of the President.


Major Programs


The Library’s computer-based MEDLARS was established in January 1964 to achieve rapid bibliographic access to NLM’s vast store of biomedical information. The principal objective of MEDLARS is to provide references to the biomedical literature for researchers, clinicians, and other health professionals. This is accomplished through:

  1. preparation of citations for publication in Index Medicus, a comprehensive, subject-author index to articles from approximately 3,000 of the world's biomedical journals;

  2. compilation of other recurring bibliographies on specialized subjects of wide interest; and

  3. provision of online search services through MEDLINE, TOXLINE, and other databases.

Agreements with foreign institutions provide MEDLARS services to an international community of health scientists.


NLM Appropriations -- Grants and Direct Operations
[Amounts in thousands of dollars]

Total Grants
Direct Operations
1962 2,0662,066
1982 7,50037,53545,035
*Medical Library assistance (extramural programs).
1Estimated cost first included in Public Health Service budget in 1958.
2Includes $1,762,000 transferred from Communicable Disease Center for National Medical Audiovisual Center.

Online Databases

In 1971 NLM initiated its MEDLINE service to provide an online bibliographic searching capability through terminals in libraries at medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country. By typing simple instructions on a terminal or personal computer connected by communications networks to the central computer, a physician or other health professional can retrieve almost instantaneously references to the most current indexed journal articles in this area of interest. In addition to MEDLINE, other online databases deal with toxicology information, cataloging information, audiovisual materials, history of medicine, cancer literature, hospital and health care literature, medical ethics, and reproductive biology. Almost 150,000 institutions and individuals in the U.S. now have access to these databases.

Regional Medical Library Services

To provide more efficient dissemination of biomedical information, NLM has been developing a network arrangement through which MEDLARS and interlibrary loan services can be shared efficiently by medical libraries. The network consists of eight Regional Medical Libraries. Although NLM remains the heart of the network, more and more services are being provided directly by regional libraries.

Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications

The center explores the use of computer, communication, and audiovisual technologies to improve the organization, dissemination, and utilization of biomedical information, and is the focus of the Library’s high performance computing and communications initiatives.

Toxicology Information Program

The general objectives of the program are to create computer-based toxicology and environmental health data banks from scientific literature and from files of collaborating industrial, academic, and governmental agencies, and to establish toxicology information services for scientists.

National Center for Biotechnology Information

The NCBI, created in 1988, builds databases and information analysis/retrieval systems for genomic information and does research into advanced information-handling methods for biotechnology and related information.

National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology

The goal of this program is to create information services that make the results of health services research readily available--including clinical guidelines, technology assessments, and health care technology.

Extramural Programs

The extramural grant and contract programs of NLM were originally authorized by the Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-291) to provide better health information services through grant support to the Nation's medical libraries. The act, since extended by Congress, offers assistance for library resources, research in biomedical communications, biomedical publications, training for research careers in medical informatics, and Regional Medical Libraries. Research project grants in medical informatics are awarded under authority of title III, part A, sec. 301, of the PHS act.